Does anyone remember the huge music game craze from a few years back? Well it all started in 2005 when Harmonix and Red Octane created a little game called Guitar Hero, which was distributed by Activision. The first entry to the series did very well both critically and commercially. As we all know the game came packaged with a plastic guitar that could be hooked up to the PS2 system and played while the notes dragged across the screen. And thus the music game craze was born. Everyone was talking about Guitar Hero and its successors, then Rock Band hit the market in 2007 which was also a huge success. Rock Band and it’s subsequent releases garnered 600 million dollars for EA and Harmonix. While Guitar Hero raked in 2 billion dollars for Activision. None of this is chump change at all, but it poses a question, where are all the music games now? Where is my Guitar Hero VI and my Rock Band IV? Well, sadly enough they went the way of the Dodo. What was once a cultural phenomenon, is now nothing, due to over-saturation.
Cultural phenomenon you say? How can a video game become a cultural phenomenon? Very easily actually. Being primarily a party game, people were inviting friends over to their house to have jam outs. Guitar Hero was just more fun to play with friends, it was alright to play alone, but beating your buddy at a Dragonforce song was just so satisfying. Who didn’t go to a Guitar Hero or Rock Band party? Maybe gamers that weren’t alive yet, but anyone who was anyone went to one of these parties and jammed out. Bars and restaurants also got into the action by having Guitar Hero nights to boost sales. Even real rock-stars promoted the game by having booths for it at certain tours, The Family Values Tour being one of them. Doctors also saw Guitar Hero as a physical therapy tool. Using the key buttons and the fret bar help recovering stroke patients with multiple limb coordination. South Park even had an episode dedicated to the game, you know you’ve struck the pop culture nerve when South Park makes fun of you.
This was the golden era for music games, which would soon be in the decline due to a few factors. Activision purchased Red Octane in 2006 for a hefty sum of 100 million dollars. This left Harmonix out on the street so MTV Networks purchased Harmonics and partnered with EA to create Rock Band, Guitar Hero‘s only competition in the market. Rock Band was released in 2007 and was also a financial success, this game not only included a guitar, but also a drum set, and microphone, which also raised the bar. This also began the over saturation of music games. In the span of five years 25 Guitar Hero or Hero music games were released, that’s an average of five a year. No one in their right mind could keep up with that, some people have issues keeping up with yearly releases, which Activision seems to be very fond of. Rock Band released six games in the span between ’07 and ’10. Once again this was too much for casual and hardcore gamers to handle, some people have that must buy them all attitude, and these two companies almost made that impossible. People couldn’t afford the newest game with the newest peripheral and they stopped purchasing them, which eventually lead to the death of the genre.
Activision was the lead proprietor of the death of the music game, had they not pumped out sequel after sequel after sequel we may have been playing Guitar Hero VII on the XboxOne. Instead the genre went to an early grave, but it made Activision a lot of money, and that’s what counts right? Red Octane is no longer an active developer, Activision shut them down February 11, 2010. Harmonix, however is still kicking, they currently announced Fantasia: Music Evolved for the Kinect at E3 2013. So there is still some hope for the music genre, the motion based accessories for next gen consoles could be the key to reviving this once loved genre. If Microsoft has perfected the Kinect as much as they say they have, then I can see a comeback. Harmonix would just need to program into their game the standard air guitar pose, singing pose, drum pose and so on. That way the consumer would just have to buy a game instead of a huge set of peripherals which would make the game cheaper and more accessible to consumers. And who doesn’t love to air guitar?